Genesis 20. Television was invented back in 1927, and since then good and bad re-runs have been airing. Some re-runs of notable shows have been airing for 46 years. According to one poll, the top TV shows of the century. I'm not going to read them all. Here's the first four: M*A*S*H, I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and number four Sesame Street.
Now, yeah, Sesame Street, now according to TV Guide here's the top worst shows. The worst TV shows according to TV Guide. Number one, Jerry Springer Show. We're not surprised. Number two, My Mother the Car. That's from 1965 to 1966. I didn't think it was that bad. Number three, XFL Football. It's the "want a be" league for those of you who never made it anywhere else. And number four, The Brady Bunch. AHHHHohhh. David Frost said, "Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you'd never allow in your home." Think about that one.
Genesis chapter 20. I'm calling it "Re-run of a Star's Worst Episode," because in reading chapter 20 it sounds strikingly familiar to chapter 12. Though the elements are certainly different, it's the repetition of the same old sin in Abraham's life that crops up now 25 years after it was originally committed in Egypt.
Abraham is a star on God's screen. He's a man of faith. He's been called God's friend. He has endured battles. He has heard promises. God has a lot in store for him, and as long as the Lord was the director and producer of his life no problem, but this star took matters in his own hands, wrote his own script you might say, and it got him into trouble.
This morning in this chapter, we're going to learn the power of unchecked sin, of what happens when we don't fully deal with habits and patterns of our past. We know that sin is a tyrant. We know that it destroys. We know that it robs. Jesus said the enemy Satan wants to steal, kill, and to destroy lives; and some sins are harder to shake than others. Their grip is tighter. Their hold is unrelenting, and that demands firm action, humble, decisive action.
I read a story about a man in Haiti who wanted to sell his home, asking price $2,000. Remember it's Haiti. A man heard about it and offered him half of that because he couldn't afford the asking price of $2,000. The owner said, "I'll sell it to you for half with one stipulation. I will retain ownership of a single nail just above the door, protruding from above the front door." A deal was struck. Years past and the original owner came and wanted to buy that house back. The resident said, "No way. My family's here now. We've made our lives here just fine; and so the original owner found the carcass of a dead dog and hung it from the nail that he owned. Well, within a week the family had to sell it back to the original owner. They couldn't stand the stinch; and so they sold the house back to the man who owned the nail. Now the moral of the story is this: you allow Satan to have just one peg in your life, and he'll hang all of his garbage on it. If we don't deal with what God wants us to deal with, it'll come back to haunt us.
Now, before we get too shocked at Abraham. Before we read the story and go, "I can't believe this great man of faith would do this again." Be careful. You know the old adage, "When you point your finger at someone, there's three pointing back at you." And so this is familiar territory for us.
We're going to look at the episode in four scenes. Four scenes that describe this repetition, this re-run. The scene opens with the camera focusing in on, zooming in on Abraham and Sarah taking a trip. Look at the first two verses. "And Abraham journeyed from there to the south, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, 'She is my sister.' And Abimelech, the king of Gerar, sent and took her."
Let's entitle scene one, "A Sin Repeated." "A Sin Repeated," because this is the same old episode 25 years back when he was in Egypt and he went to Pharaoh and he said, "This is my sister." Abraham's reverting back to being a liar, a deceiver, and placing his wife in an awkward situation, which brings up an essential point. Abraham still had a sin nature. God gave him a new name, but he still had the old nature; and that old nature was fighting against that new name, the new experience God wanted to bring him into.
Oh, he was a believer. Don't get me wrong. Acts, or Genesis 15, "He believed in God, and God counted it to him as righteousness." But though he was a believer, he still had a sin nature. So do we. Galatians 5 verse 17. It's a familiar verse. That's why I'm going to read it to you in a different translation. "The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just the opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other."
So this is how it works. You come to Christ. You are what Jesus described: born again. You have a new nature birthed within you, and that's wonderful, but that's when another set of problems begin. That's when a battle begins. The flesh against the Spirit. The battle of Little Big Flesh happens right here in each one of us. Now that's not an excuse for us to keep on sinning. "Well, I couldn't help it. It's the old nature, you know. I got to leave with it." No. That's an incentive to avoid it.
There was a French criminal several years ago named Daniel Hugon who was convicted of murder; brought to trial. And his defense did something interesting. They did a little research in his DNA and discovered, and used it in court, they discovered that he had one extra Y chromosome in his DNA; and they said that that predisposed him as a born killer. In other words, he murders people because he's born that way. He can't help it. It's part of his genetic code. He had one extra Y chromosome. So they brought in expert after expert to testify, and the long and short of it was the Y chromosome does pose a problem, but doesn't make him do what he did. So he's still responsible for his action; but he got a lighter sentence because they said Hugon was imbalanced from birth.
Well, they're right. He is imbalanced from birth. But you know what? I'm imbalanced from birth. And you're saying, "We always thought so, Skip." But you're imbalanced from birth, and it's not the Y chromosome that is the real problem. Let's call it the S chromosome. The sin nature endemic to every human being; and that's why the Christian's battle is fiercer because we have a new nature that mitigates the old-- the flesh against the Spirit. We face it everyday.
It's the new nature that says, "Let's serve God." It's the old nature that says, "No. I want to serve myself a little while longer. Thank you." It's the new nature that says, "We got an extra hour's sleep. Let's get up and have quiet time earlier." It's the old nature that says, "Oh, but the bed is so warm." It's the new nature that says, "Let's go to church this Sunday," and the old nature that says, "Why? Is it Christmas or Easter? Do we have to?" There's that battle.
There's something else to notice in this first scene. Abraham went south into enemy territory. He's in the Negev, and he crosses the line, "and he stayed..." verse one, "in Gerar." Now let me tell you about Gerar. It's just over the border in Philistine country, enemy territory. He's not all the way down in Egypt. That's what happened back in chapter 12. But he does go to a dangerous place, a place he's going to have to make some compromises in order to survive; and he reverts back to those old ways of dealing with thing. He shouldn't be there, but he was. We're not told exactly why he went there, but he's there.
The Bible says a lot about fleeing temptation, fleeing youthful lusts. Get away! Run! Flee! There's some people I know it would seem they'll flee temptation, but then they'll give Satan their forwarding address, if you know what I mean. "I'm leaving you, but here. I'll be here for the next two weeks if you need to get in touch with me."
If you're a believer, there are certain places you shouldn't be as a believer. You shouldn't go to certain stores, and if you're in them there's certain areas of that store you should stay away from. There's certain people you shouldn't hang out with. There's certain things you should not see on television. There's certain times that you shouldn't view it. It would seem that some of us want to sail so close to the lake of fire that our sails get singed. You know, it's like, what can I do, what can I get away with and still be called a Christian? That's not a good question.
Wilbur Chapman said, "My life is governed by a single rule. Anything that dims my vision of Christ, anything that takes away my taste for Bible Study, anything that cramps my prayer life or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me; and I must as a Christian turn away from it. Well, that's the first scene. A scene repeated.
Well, now, the camera pans to scene two, and scene two opens up in Abimelech's bedroom. It's night time. He's sleeping. And let's call this scene, "Sarah Rescued," because watch what happens in verse three, "But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, 'Indeed you're a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.' But Abimelech had not come near her, and he said, 'Lord, will you slay a righteous nation, also? Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she even herself said, 'He's my brother.' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I've done this.' God said to him in a dream, 'Yes. I know you did this in the integrity of your heart, for I also withheld you from sinning against me. Therefore; I did not let you touch her. Now, therefore, restore the man's wife for he is a prophet.'" Oh. Did God have to say that?
You know, if I were Abraham, to be exposed by God to an unbeliever like that. "Oh, he's my servant. The liar, he's mine." "And he will pray for you," (I'm not sure I'd want him to pray for me) "and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you will surely die, you and all who are yours. And so Abimelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants and told him all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid." Now Abimelech acted on the information he had. "This is his sister." They both said that, so he did what was protocol for rulers to do at that time, took her to become one of his many wives in his harem.
Some of you might be a bit puzzled at this point. You're looking at me with squinty eyes, and you're saying, "Now, I didn't get this back in chapter 12 when she was 60 years old and Pharaoh saw something in her. Now that she's in her 90's I really don't get this. He could have anybody he wants. She's in her 90's. I mean, where's the temptation?" you're asking. All I can say is she must've been a knock out. In fact, if you go back to ancient research, some of the Hebrew records of the day tell us that Sarah was the most beautiful woman of her time, and she possessed a perfect figure through her life, which made every woman probably not like her that much. But according to those records she possessed the beauty of Eve, to whom God gave a third of all the beauty on earth. That's the legend that comes from it, but it's really not about that.
It's not really what did he see in her in terms of beauty. The real idea was making an alliance. Kings would make alliances with other powerful rulers and they would make them by taking their daughter, or their sister, or somebody from their entourage as a wife. Now, Abraham was wealthy. He was prominent. He had clout. He had become a powerful ruler, and so an alliance is about to be formed between these two rulers.
Look once again at the beginning of verse three. Notice the first two words changes the story. "But God." I am so grateful for those two words. "But God" is a phrase, I counted it yesterday, 45 times it appears in the Bible. It's a great phrase. I love all of the "but Gods" in the Bible. It speaks of God's love, care, intervention, activity. I'll give you a few of them. "Jacob said to his wife, 'Your father deceived me. He changed my wages 10 times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.'" Or Joseph to his brothers who abducted him, "You meant this against me for evil but God meant it for good." My favorite is Ephesians 2 because I'm implied and you're implied in it. Paul said, "You were dead in trespasses and sins. We walked according to the course of this world. We were by nature the children of wrath even as others, but God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us made us alive." That one phrase changes everything, and that is part of our testimony. "I was going one way, but God opened my eyes."
And so this section summed up would say Abraham messed up royally, but God rescued her and restrained him.
Now, do you feel a little bit sorry at all for Abimelech? I do. I think he really gets the shaft here. He's acting on the information that a lying prophet has given him. He does what is protocol, what is upright in his culture, and God comes to him and says, "You're a dead man. You got somebody's wife," and he complains, "I did this in the integrity of my heart." This guy got the shaft, which brings my point. A disobedient Christian is a menace to everyone he or she is around. It's a loose cannon. That's one of the reasons the New Testament tells us if there's someone claiming to be a Christian living in outright disobedience, don't even eat with them. Stay far away. Everybody in Abimelech's household will be affected by this.
There were 13 ministers aboard an airplane. They were traveling from the west coast to New York City. Thirteen going to a convention. The plane encountered some storm activity, and the engines were having problems. The plane's bouncing up and down, and one of the minister's sits up and tells the stewardess going up to the cockpit, "Hey, you tell the pilot it's going to be all right. He's got 13 ministers on his airplane." So she conveyed the message, came back a few minutes later, and the guy said, "Well, did you give him the message?" And she smiled, and she said, "Yeah, I told him, and he says he's happy to have 13 ministers on his airplane, but he'd rather have four good engines."
You know, it's great to have ministers or prophets come hang around with you, but only if they're walking with the Lord. Otherwise, you don't want them. Remember Jonah got on that boat. I wonder if anybody recognized him? "Oh, that's that prophet. He's famous around these parts. Boy, I'm glad he's on this boat today. That means we're going to have smooth sailing because he's one of God's prophets." Well, that's the last person you want on your boat, because the storm's going to come and everybody's going to be afraid and shaken. I think about that when I get on an airplane and somebody recognizes me. "Oh, Pastor Skip, we're so relieved you're on this airplane. We know it's going to be fine." I think, "Oh, really. You better hope I'm walking with God or this could be the worst flight of your life."
Abraham comes. He comes into his house. God speaks to Abimelech. That's scene two.
Let's move to scene three, and let's call this scene now "A Saint Rebuked." And here we get to the heart of the story. This is the dialogue portion. This is the climax of the story. Verse 9, "And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, 'What have you done to us? How have I offended you that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.' And Abimelech said to Abraham, 'What did you have in view that you have done this thing?'"
Charles Spurgeon once said, "God does not allow his children to sin successfully." Here he gets rebuked, and he's rebuked by an unbelieving politician. How embarrassing is that?
I was reading in my devotions yesterday with my teenage son. We were reading Proverbs 25, and I came on a verse and I said, "Nate, I got to put that in the message. It fits perfectly with what we're dealing with." Here it is. Proverbs 25, "A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well." Here comes Abraham that man of faith, that friend of God, that murky spring, that polluted well. And he comes around. He is rebuked by Abimelech. However, we're going to read a few more verses.
A few things are revealed about Abraham that we would never know apart from this conversation. Things you never know about Abraham, but they're revealed here. Number one, he's operating under a false assumption. This is one of the reasons he goes back to his old ways. False assumption. Look at verse 11. "Abraham said, 'Because I thought'" because I thought "'surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they'll kill me on account of my wife.'" Stop. Did you hear that? Is that ironic? In other words, he's saying, "Well, the reason I lied, and deceived, and placed my wife in danger is because I thought 'These guys are really bad sinners.'" It sounds like they have more of the fear of God in their place than Abraham does in his heart. This is an assumption he's operating on. You know assumption is the lowest form of communication. You'll take action without investigation. He didn't get all the facts. He assumed this, and he operated on the assumption.
Number two, a Faulty Assertion. Look at verse 12. "But indeed she truly is my sister. She is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife." "Oh, well, you left that part out when we talked to you last, and she became..., that would be an important thing to know, Abraham." But here's the faulty assertion. They had convinced themselves that it's okay because it's a little white lie. It's half true. I mean, "It's not a mega lie." "It's not a big honkin' lie." "On the Richter scale of lies, it's maybe a 1.2." Oh, it's worse because you are using truth to deceive people by leaving very important parts out. There's an old saying that says, "When you stretch the truth it's apt to snap back." Behold, the snap as Abraham stands there.
Something else. Look at verse 13, A Failed Action. "It came to pass, continues Abraham, when God caused me to wander from my father's house that I said to her, 'This is your kindness that you should do for me in every place. Wherever we go say of me, he is my brother." Did you hear that? When did God cause him to wander? It was 30 years before this day when he was in Ur of the Chaldeans when God got ahold of his life and he starts his spiritual walk. They made this little compact together, "We'll lie wherever we go." What an interesting wedding that must've been. "Abraham, I will take you as my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, (MUTTERING ON PURPOSE), and I'll lie for you wherever we go." Done deal.
This amazes me. It's been 30 years of fellowship with God, and 30 years of hearing God's promises, and 30 years of fighting battles, and all of the while behind the scenes they have made this unbroken compact that when we need to we'll lie together. Now it bit him once 25 years before this. They went to Egypt. They were busted before Pharaoh. Abraham admitted his wrong to Pharaoh and prayed to God, but he didn't deal with it. He didn't change. He's doing the same thing here again. Why? Because he never really made a real break with his sin. He just sort of covered it over. The pact is still going on.
You know, there's a difference between a light-hearted admission and a broken-hearted confession? Anybody can say, "Yep. We're all sinners. Yep. I've blown it," but a broken-hearted confession is vastly different. Proverbs 28:13 reads, "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy."
I've discovered that when a believer falls it is at the place where he has fallen before. It's a weak spot. It's a habit that has not been dealt with, but rather nurtured, allowed to grow, over time. Now, we hear about somebody's fall and we go, "I can't believe that happened to him or her. They fell in that area." That's because behind the scenes you discover it's been going on all along. It's been nurtured; and something's been festering and growing for a long period of time. All of that to say, know the areas of your personal weakness and shore them up, because that is the area Satan will come and attack.
After Jesus was tempted by Satan, the Scripture says in Luke 4, "When the devil finished tempting he left him until an opportune time." Your enemy and mine is walking around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He's looking for the opportune time to get that weak spot. If it's not shored up, if you don't deal with the past your future can be miserable.
Well, there was a deacon. He would always go to Wednesday night prayer meeting, and he would often pray the same prayer. And people were praying out loud, and it came to his turn, and he would always say, "And Lord, clear out all those cobwebs in my life," meaning all those things that aren't right that mar my testimony. Next week he'd say it again, "And Lord, clear out all those cobwebs in my life." Well, one guy got sick of hearing this, and by the third or fourth week when that guy said, "Oh Lord, clear out all the cobwebs in my life," he finally shouted out and said, "Don't do it, Lord. Kill the spider." You know, here's Abraham cleaning up all this mess, right, all these cobwebs, but the spider is still alive. That needs to be dealt with.
Whenever we give in to an impulse of the old nature, we're not just sinning. We are building a lifestyle. You've heard it a hundred times from this pulpit. You sow a thought, you reap an action. You sow an action, you reap a habit. You sow a habit, you reap a lifestyle. You are building something destructive for the future.
Now, I mentioned that there's a difference between light-hearted admission and broken-hearted confession? I want to show you an example of true broken-hearted confession. Turn over to Psalm 51 for a moment. Psalm 51. The most famous prayer of confession I think in Scripture uttered by David after he sinned with Bathsheba and the prophet found him out. Psalm 51. We won't read it all, but notice a few verses. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your lovingkindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." Did you notice that David didn't say forgive me for my hang-ups, my issues, a wee problem, but he calls them iniquities, transgressions, and sins. "For I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is always before me. Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight that you may be found just when you speak and blameless when you judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." Verse 10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence. Do not take your Holy Spirit from me." Verse 16, "For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it. You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. These, O God, you will not despise." You can hear his attitude. He hates his sin. He loathes himself for having done it. And he despises the very memory of it. That's broken-hearted confession. That's real confession. That's something David did, and it was a threshold moment for him. It's something Abraham still needed to do.
Well, let's finish out the episode, the re-run, shall we? It ends on a good note, believe it or not. This is scene four, and let's call this scene, "A Servant is Restored." It's a brief scene. Verse 14, "Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and he restored Sarah his wife to him. What a guy! "And Abimelech said, 'See, my land is before you. Dwell where it pleases you.'" What a guy! "And he said to Sarah, 'Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver. Indeed, this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.' Thus she was rebuked. So Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants. Then they bore children. For the Lord had closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham's wife." Man.
You know, Abimelech's at his best. Abraham's at his worst. Abimelech's stellar in his character. Abraham is flawed in his character, but, but the Lord is still with Abraham. This is grace. The Lord is still with him, hearing his prayer. "Let him go. He's a prophet. He'll pray for you." Eeee. He does, and they're healed. So God is still with him, and there's evidence that Abraham confessed his sin to God and was forgiven. You say, "Skip, how do you know that. It doesn't say that." But it does say in Psalm 66 these words, "If I had not confessed the sin of my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God did listen. He paid attention to my prayer."
Abimelech gives him gifts. I don't think I would've been that gracious. I'd say, "Abraham, come outside for a few minutes first. Come here. I can't believe you did this." But he heaps gracious things upon him. Maybe A, to acknowledge he's a prophet; B as a personal propitiation for the damages that could've occurred.
But here's the point: A bad episode ends with a good God proving once again Roman 8:28 that "All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose." Now please don't walk away and go, "Oh, good. So I can mess up, right? I can do anything I want, and God will just pick up the pieces." You know what he lost? You know what Abraham lost here? He marred his testimony. He marred his ministry. He marred his future.
Think about it. He marred his testimony. He could have given a great witness to a very close and moral unbeliever; but how do you witness to somebody about the God of all truth when you are a liar? It's hard to do that. He ruined his chance.
Number two. He marred his ministry. Remember chapter 12, God says, "Abraham, I want you to bless people. Everywhere you go, you'll be a blessing to people." He wasn't a blessing here. He was a scourge. He was a curse. They had no babies in their house as long as he was around.
Number three. Listen carefully. It marred his future. It marred his future. We're not going to get to it in our series, but go home and read chapter 26 of this book. Genesis 26 will tell you of the son of Abraham named Isaac visiting the same area, standing before another King Abimelech. By the way, Abimelech isn't a name. It's a title, like a Pharaoh of Egypt. There were many Abimelech's who were rulers of the Philistines. The son of Abraham, Isaac, stands before another Abimelech and says about his wife, "She's my sister." Where'd he get that? Dad. Like father like son.
You know, it's bad enough when sin ruins our witness and hurts other people, but it's really bad when we pass it down to our kids. And that's why we need to deal humbly, honestly, and definitely with sin in our lives. And we do it by confessing, forsaking, and replacing it with his righteousness.
I'm going to close with a story that comes to us from talk show host Paul Harvey. You know, Paul Harvey(makes voice crack) tells how Eskimos kill wolves. Listen to his story. The Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and lets it freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood and another. As each coat freezes he adds another smear of blood 'til the blade is hidden deep within a substantial thickness of frozen blood. Then he buries the knife, blade up. In the frozen tundra, the wolf catches the scent of the fresh blood and begins to lick it. He licks it more and more feverishly until the blade is bear. Then he keeps on licking harder and harder. Because of the cold, the wolf never notices the pain of the blade on his tongue. His craving for the taste of blood is so great that he doesn't realize his thirst is being satisfied by his own warm blood. He licks the blade until he bleeds to death, swallowing his own life. I have never found a clearer analogy of sin than that. That's exactly what it does. It tastes so good, and you go for it, and it destroys you all the while.
Would you pray with me? We now come to the most important and crucial part of this message. It's the time when we lay our hearts bare before God and let the Holy Spirit deal each individually with us. Before we shift gears into the day, before we go to lunch, before we make other plans, we have heard a message, and we are either going to deflect it and rationalize against it or we're going to deal with it. Before the Lord just now in this quiet moment, you're alone before him, your thoughts, you think of the worst episode in your life. There's probably a few that come to mind. Think of something that you did, some pattern, some behavior you look back on and are so glad that it's not on the silver screen as a re-run. What brought you to that place? What went wrong? What steps did you take to get you to that episode? Then shift quickly to maybe the best episode that you can think of in your life, and what steps brought you there? Which place would you rather live and repeat? And then you may want to ask yourself have you been acting all along? Has it been just an act? Has it been a Sunday act? You brought the Bible, you sing the songs, you put on the face, because that's part of "the act" as a Christian. Maybe the Spirit of God would probe your heart and want something deeper, something more authentic, something life changing; and once again he has brought you to a place to hear a message like this because he loves you so much he doesn't want to let you go down that destructive path. Friend, now is the time to get it right before him.
Lord, we are talking to the one who knows everything about us, our deepest thoughts, our motives, our devotion, or lack thereof. Nothing's hidden from you, and yet you're the same one who loves us more than anyone else ever will, regardless of what we've done. By your grace you're willing to accept us, to hear our prayers, to take us from this point. Help us to live a life of renewed change. In Jesus' name, Amen.